FAQ

The BentProp Project is a self-funded team of volunteers, each with essential expertise (history, aviation, diving, navigation), who are dedicated to locating and assisting with identifying American prisoners of war and missing in action from World War Two within the Palau Islands. This effort is done through detailed research and exploration, using best scientific methods available to us, while consistently coordinating with the appropriate U.S. and Palauan authorities.
Our purpose is both to help bring closure to affected MIA families and to express our gratitude for these Americans lost in combat for their sacrifices in defense of our country, as well as for the consequent sacrifices of their families.

Our primary searches target American airmen (both MIAs and POWs) lost within one area: the Republic of Palau in the western Pacific area. We have focused on this area because of the many air battles over Palau, leading up to, during and after the US 1st Marine Division invasion of Peleliu, a southern island within the Republic of Palau, on September 15, 1944 . These air battles resulted in many missing American aircraft and their aircrews, crashed throughout Palau and its waters. In addition, because American military also remain missing from the invasion of Peleliu, this island is a specific focus area for the BentProp Project.

From a broader perspective, we recognize the tens of thousands of American MIAs and missing POWs worldwide who remain missing and, as best we can, we help others in their MIA searches around the world.

No. The BentProp Project conducts year-round research consisting of archival research and interviews to provide the best available information concerning MIAs, culminating in specific planning for our annual month-long field missions in Palau. The target goals of each field mission, e.g., ocean vs. jungle, are determined by the available data from research and prior missions.

As appropriate, we notify respective government authorities in the Republic of Palau and in the United States of our activities before, during and after each field missions, so that they can make determinations concerning a range of issues including recovery, identification, family notification and protection of historical sites.

Within the Republic of Palau, this typically includes:

  •   The Historical Preservation Office and the Bureau of Arts and Culture
  •   The Office of the President
  •   State Governors and
  •   Chiefs

Other contacts are made depending on the nature of the specific mission.

Within the United States, this typically includes:

The BentProp Project began in 1993 and formalized its mission structure in 2000. Patrick J. Scannon, MD, PhD, is the founder and current Team Leader.

The BentProp Project currently consists of 20 members. Each member was carefully vetted and chosen for:

  • Expertise appropriate for our missions (not all members participate in field missions; some assist in archival searches, analysis and mission planning),
  • Their deep understanding and support of our Vision, Mission and Values
  • Perhaps most importantly, each individual’s ability to work as an integral team member in a wide range of settings.

Currently, we are not seeking new members. However, from time to time, depending on mission requirements, the BentProp Project team accepts new membership.

We have recently implemented a semi-formal application process. If you are interested, please notify here. Upon request, we’ll send you some application materials. Team members will review your request against our needs and respond accordingly. If we have an opening and interest exists for a candidate, the next step involves a rigorous series of interviews with different team members. Beyond expertise, a critical qualification is the demonstration of one’s ability to work in varied team field environments.

Typically, field teams vary in size from 6-10 people. Team members have a wide range of backgrounds, including scientists with varying specialties, such as aviation experts, underwater experts, engineers, historians, journalists, photographers, anthropologists and archeologists. Team members include active duty and former military (Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force), as well as civilians with no prior military experience.

Field team members must be in excellent physical shape to meet the demands of the in-country mission, which is a 7-day a week operation. Each field team member has at least one specific task, e.g., land safety officer, water safety officer, documenter, navigator, medical officer. We utilize check lists a lot as part of our preparation. We have a ready room for morning briefings and evening debriefings. In the morning, prior to that day’s brief, some of us cook and the rest wash dishes, prepare field meals or prepare for other aspects of that day’s mission. As important, beyond tasking and expertise, members must accept and be comfortable with the team dynamic and be prepared to support each other and the team under a wide range of circumstances.

While as individuals, we tend to be highly independent and adventurous, as a team we agree to our mission and stay together on that mission. Individual voices get heard and we change missions frequently, but only as a team.

We all learn to accept disappointment as routine, because many more times than not, we do not find what we are looking for. It took ten years to locate the ‘453 B-24 and its crew.

Our working field motto is: “if it were easy, all the wrecks would have been found by now.” Field settings vary greatly. Palau has three kinds of jungle: coral, volcanic and mangrove (all are difficult, each unique). And while Palau has some of the best recreational diving in the world, ocean floor environments can vary from 100 foot visibility to zero visibility with and without currents. The average air temperatures vary from 70-100 degrees with high humidity; the water temperature averages 84 degrees. Whether on land or ocean, it rains frequently and being continually wet is a reality.

The BentProp Project has great respect for the people of Palau, their privacy and their culture. We often find ourselves conducting interviews, with permission, in small villages with elders, hunters and fishermen. We start each mission with a series of courtesy calls to Palau heads of State, elected officials and appropriate local authorities to notify them about our specific mission goals. This includes the President of Palau, several of their Senators, Delegates, Chiefs, State Governors as well as to the US Ambassador. The Department of Defense maintains a Civic Action Team (Camp KATUU), whom we also notify of our activities. We have met informally with members of other Embassies in Palau, including Japan and Taiwan. We routinely meet with members of the Palauan Bureau of Arts and Culture, who sometimes request to join us in the field. We seek permits and/or permissions from all appropriate agencies and property owners. Palauans often recognize the team as we travel around Palau and we feel it is our duty as Americans to live and project a respectful and courteous image at all times. We never forget we are guests in Palau.

Some years, JPAC is in Palau, when we are, to conduct their separate search and/or recovery missions, which are independent of our missions. While in-country, our team will interact, as appropriate, with their field teams to provide information and support.

Mentoring and education are also important to us: we seek opportunities for teaching what we have learned both to Palauans and to interested Americans (e.g., Stockbridge High School, Michigan). Finally, we collaborate with institutions, which support our mission, such as Scripps Institute of Oceanography and University of Delaware.

As can be seen, team members are exposed to a wide variety of settings and must be able to manage all of them well in the context of achieving the goals of our mission.

The BentProp Project’s Vision is:

  •   To repatriate every American service member who has not come home.
  •   To provide information and closure to the families of these service members.
  •   To provide a platform to educate all on the importance of service to one’s country.
  •   To provide unique educational opportunities in the arenas of science, history, leadership and diplomacy to a select and committed student audience in conjunction with our missions in order to provide a real world application to the students and broaden the outlook of our team members.

Safety
Each team member, and the team as a whole, have individual and joint responsibilities in ensuring safety, both in planning and in execution of each and every mission. No team member will knowingly expose other team members to harm. Each team member has the ability to suspend an operation for any perceived safety issue.

Leadership
We understand that leadership within the team is essential, and the need constant. We strive to promote leadership as part of the search experience for all team members. We encourage everyone to step up and take charge of what they are responsible for.

Respect
For the POW/MIAs and their families. For each other. For the cultures with whom we interact. Respect encompasses all aspects of our project, including such things as privacy, property, need for information, differences in outlook and differences in backgrounds, laws and traditions. We are bound by this respect to avoid belligerent confrontation. We are especially respectful of the privilege of working in other countries.

Humility
Our affect is determined by our understanding that Americans have died in defense of us and our families – without ever having known us. We know we can learn from all around us. Our focus is our POW/MIAs and their families – not ourselves nor the general public. We orient pride, including self-pride, toward our team and our joint accomplishments. We view arrogance as a shallow shield hiding ignorance.

Integrity
We value integrity, which is the integration of honesty with reality. Integrity of each individual and the team as a whole is fundamental to our success. We recognize and correct our mistakes expeditiously, privately and publicly, starting from within the team and extending as needed to those affected.

Responsibility
We understand that individuals, families and others can and will be affected by our actions and we have a commitment to anticipating, as much in advance as practical, the ramifications of our efforts. Team members accept the responsibility to visualize the second and third order effects of their actions, and the team’s actions all the way to the national and world level.

Rigor, Diligence and Perseverance
These overlapping values create a team obligation and approach to investigate, study, search and prepare for and follow through with each mission using all practical venues so that our search can be productive. We either accept each mission fully or not at all. We owe this to the POW/MIAs and their families, to the individuals, agencies and governments we work with and to ourselves. In doing so, we understand that such values also define practical boundaries hindering potential success. This leads to a constant re-evaluation of our approaches, methodologies and techniques, while having a never-ending thirst for knowledge and success.

Innovation and Resourcefulness
We are resourceful in maximizing use of technologies, records, personal recollections, selection of future team members and whatever else is needed to accomplish our mission. We do not let individual or collective experience hinder future solutions. We value thinking ‘outside the box’.

Education
Through our thirst for knowledge, we seek to learn from others’ experiences, knowledge and talents. We embrace and utilize education for sharing our efforts, methods and accomplishments with others.

Sharing of Information
We commit to timely sharing of information and discoveries within our organization, with families, agencies and others. We recognize that we have need to be both transparent and confidential in that sharing: transparent with ourselves and as appropriate, with agencies, families and others – confidential in holding information closely as appropriate.

Trustworthy and Trusting
Once accepted, each team member is deemed worthy of team trust in accepting and carrying out our mission. Because of this, differences between or among team members can and must be brought forward and expeditiously dealt with.

Joy and Fun
Our mission is somber, for which we are respectful. Nonetheless, these separate but overlapping values provide continuity and humanity to our efforts. If we cannot smile at what we are doing, we are not doing what we should.

Team Participation
Each team member is selected as, and considered to be, a valuable asset in the quest for finding POW/MIAs. Each team member is encouraged to participate in any and all aspects of any mission: from archival research to crawling in the mangroves. Each mission will have assigned tasks that will be distributed among all team members based on experience, skill set and desires.

Direction
We understand that our mission is both focused and flexible. We jointly accept that we go where our results may take us and we determine the size, expertise, scope and all other factors based upon the direction we decide to pursue. Such direction determines in turn the size and scope of our individual and overall missions.

P-MAN is a BentProp Project acronym for Palau Marines + Army/Air Force + Navy to designate a specific mission. The Marines and Army (both services were on the ground and in the air during the Palau campaigns) and the Navy were the three combat arms which fought in the Palau area during WWII. The Air Force was not constituted as a separate combat service until 1947 and was part of the Army during WWII. P-MAN is followed by a Roman number, generated serially, to specify a mission, e.g., P-MAN XVI is the mission designator for the Palau mission in Spring 2014.

MIA = Missing In Action
Merriam Webster Dictionary: a soldier who was not found after a battle and who may or may not be dead; an active duty member of the armed forces who is missing in action; a member of the armed forces whose whereabouts following a combat mission are unknown and whose death cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt .

US Code Definition of Missing Person (NOTE – includes civilian DoD employees and contractors as well as armed forces).

10 USC § 1513 – Definitions
(1) The term “missing person” means—
(A) a member of the armed forces on active duty who is in a missing status; or
(B) a civilian employee of the Department of Defense or an employee of a contractor of the Department of Defense who serves in direct support of, or accompanies, the armed forces in the field under orders and who is in a missing status.
Such term includes an unaccounted for person described in subsection (a) of section 1509 of this title who is required by subsection (b) of such section to be considered a missing person.
(2) The term “missing status” means the status of a missing person who is determined to be absent in a category of any of the following:
(A) Missing.
(B) Missing in action.
(C) Interned in a foreign country.
(D) Captured.
(E) Beleaguered.
(F) Besieged.
(G) Detained in a foreign country against that person’s will.

POW = Prisoner Of War — any person captured or interned by a belligerent power during war. In the strictest sense it is applied only to members of regularly organized armed forces (e.g., active duty members), but by broader definition it has also included guerrillas, civilians who take up arms against an enemy openly, or noncombatants associated with a military force.

Reference: Article IV of Geneva Convention III, Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:
(a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) that of carrying arms openly;
(d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

(4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization, from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

(5) Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

B. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:

(1) Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country, if the occupying Power considers it necessary by reason of such allegiance to intern them, even though it has originally liberated them while hostilities were going on outside the territory it occupies, in particular where such persons have made an unsuccessful attempt to rejoin the armed forces to which they belong and which are engaged in combat, or where they fail to comply with a summons made to them with a view to internment.

(2) The persons belonging to one of the categories enumerated in the present Article, who have been received by neutral or non-belligerent Powers on their territory and whom these Powers are required to intern under international law, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment which these Powers may choose to give and with the exception of Articles 8, 10, 15, 30, fifth paragraph, 58-67, 92, 126 and, where diplomatic relations exist between the Parties to the conflict and the neutral or non-belligerent Power concerned, those Articles concerning the Protecting Power. Where such diplomatic relations exist, the Parties to a conflict on whom these persons depend shall be allowed to perform towards them the functions of a Protecting Power as provided in the present Convention, without prejudice to the functions which these Parties normally exercise in conformity with diplomatic and consular usage and treaties.

C. This Article shall in no way affect the status of medical personnel and chaplains as provided for in Article 33 of the present Convention.

http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/7c4d08d9b287a42141256739003e63bb/6fef854a3517b75ac125641e004a9e68

As of this writing, according to the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office:

83,345 Americans are officially missing in action (without distinction between MIAs and missing POWs)

  •   WWII: 73,661
  •   Korean War: 7,909
  •   Cold War: 126
  •  Vietnam War: 1645
  •   Iraq and other conflicts: 6

Missing POWs are technically difficult (if not impossible) to separate from MIAs because they might be either POWs who were reported as captured but remain missing or POWs who are missing but were never reported as captured by enemy forces. They may also have been misreported as a POW and actually be an MIA. For example, Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions prior to WWII so not all American POWs were reported. All missing POWs are MIAs and fit into that classification for accounting purposes.

Simply put, there are still many missing service members to be repatriated from this one theater of the war. Immediately after WWII, efforts were made by American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) Units to locate MIAs and missing POWs associated with both aviation losses throughout Palau and ground losses from Peleliu and Angaur. However, this effort was limited by the inability to search a) beyond the barrier reef due to extreme ocean depths, b) ocean areas within the barrier reefs due to lack of technical capabilities (e.g., no scuba diving capabilities) and c) within most jungle areas due to limited resources and inadequate and unavailable records. Because of the possibility that aviation-related MIAs could be anywhere within more than 300 square mile area of both ocean and jungle, only those crash sites known by locals who survived the war, as well as MIAs found within the Peleliu battle area were located and recovered during the AGRS searches in 1947.

During a critical period of WWII from March 1944 to August 1945, US forces, primarily under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz with support from General Douglas MacArthur, conducted a series of aerial and land invasions within the Japanese-held Palauan Islands because of its geographically important position in the central Pacific.

At least nine combat aerial campaigns took place:

  •   30-31MAR44 DESECRATE ONE (TF58 – Fast Carriers)
  •   04-05MAY44 868th BS/13thAAF Night Raids (B-24)
  •   10JUN44 90th BG/5thAAF Day Raids (B-24)
  •   25-27JUL44 SNAPSHOT (TF58.2/58.3 – Fast Carriers)
  •   08-27AUG44 868th BS/13thAAF Night Raids (B-24)
  •   25AUG-04SEP44 307th & 5thBG/13thAAF Day Raids (B-24)
  •   12SEP-28NOV44 STALEMATE II* (Invasions of Peleliu and Angaur)
  •   16SEP44-SEP45 Marine Air Group-11, VMF-114, 122, 121, VMTB-134
  •   OCT44-MAY45 494th BG/7th AAF (B-24)

*Two Separate US Navy attacks: Fast Carrier TF38 and CVE TF32.7

The DPAA – Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is a US government agency based in Washington DC and Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. DPAA conducts global search, recovery, and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts. Employing more than 500 joint military and civilian personnel, DPAA continues to search for the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts. The laboratory portion of DPAA, referred to as the DPAA Laboratory (formerly CIL-Central Identification Laboratory), is the largest and most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world.

The DPAA – Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is a US government agency based in Washington DC and Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. DPAA conducts global search, recovery, and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts. Employing more than 500 joint military and civilian personnel, DPAA continues to search for the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts. The laboratory portion of DPAA, referred to as the DPAA Laboratory (formerly CIL-Central Identification Laboratory), is the largest and most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world.

The BentProp Project works independently from DPAA. While we have no direct relationship with DPAA, the BentProp Project unilaterally communicates with this organization by notifying them concerning a) all field mission plans, b) preliminary mission findings and final mission reports and c) any incidental findings that we determine may be of interest to them.

To be clear, while we routinely provide our findings to these agencies, we do not expect, nor do we receive, privileged information from DPAA. We respect that DPAA have a large worldwide mission and must set their own search and recovery priorities. We view our mission as complementary and supportive of DPAA’s much larger mission, and we work to be consistent with our understanding of their policies. We respect and abide by DPAA decisions concerning their field activities and priorities. We are also careful in our field work to ensure that our procedures do not interfere with DPAA’s forensic assessment (e.g., chain of custody and archeological site integrity) and recovery operations.

Both for DPAA and Palauan authorities, we understand that each MIA site must be treated as potentially containing human remains as well as archeologically relevant materials; thus, we do respect and follow the concept of forensic chain-of-custody methods to minimize site disruption.

The BentProp Project protocol upon finding a suspected MIA site includes:

  • Ceasing work on further site exploration and maintaining confidentiality as to our findings to ensure effective forensic assessments by DPAA which will be conducted at later times at their discretion.
  • Documentation of the site characteristics including GPS, photography, videography, drawings, maps and measurements.
  • Completion of a Flag Ceremony on site, including photography and videography. The BentProp Project provides these site specific American Flags and ceremonial photography and videography to the MIA Families once either given permission from DPAA to send to the families or if independently contacted by the families. We do not proactively approach MIA Families, unless cleared by DPAA.
  • Notification of all appropriate local authorities in Palau to assist in site protection: e.g., the Historical Preservation Office, Office of the president, State Governor, Chiefs
  • Notification of US authorities: e.g., the US Ambassador to Palau, DPAA, and the appropriate service historical agency.
  • Instructions and requests we might receive from any of these authorities
  • Submitting to these authorities an immediate preliminary confidential report of specific findings
  • Submitting a final confidential report of findings and any additional data

On certain occasions for a variety of reasons, the BentProp Project P-MAN field team has requested that a site receive Palauan State and National site protection. Upon approval of that request, we can only return to that site with appropriate in-country permissions.

No. No. No.

  • We absolutely do not solicit support from MIA families at any time.
  • We do not independently notify MIA families of our plans and findings prior to formal identification by DPAA. We voluntarily follow, as best we can, DPAA policies in this regard as we do not want to create false hopes or expectations.
  • We do not mention specific MIA names or search efforts in our public field reports on www.bentprop.org, unless given express permission from DPAA (typically only after MIAs are identified) or locations in keeping with DPAA and Palauan agency policies. We understand that after a recovery of MIA remains it can take extended periods of time for DPAA to complete all necessary analyses to ensure optimal MIA identification. DPAA determines who may contact families and at what point in time.

However…should an MIA family initiate contact with the BentProp Project at any time prior to MIA identification and formal notification, we work with the family to provide general information we have available concerning their missing family member.

The BentProp Project respects the policies of DPAA which include a) helping families learn about the general services available for MIA and POW families and b) maintaining confidentiality of specific search and recovery information until DPAA has completed its processes for establishing identity of human remains. This latter policy has its roots both in respecting the families’ rights to privacy and not raising premature or false hopes prior to formal notification by DPAA.

The one exception is that should a family become aware of our searches and contacts us, the BentProp Project will provide general information, such as archival data we have accumulated but will, in keeping with DPAA policy, retain confidentiality concerning the specifics of the relevant search.

The BentProp Project as a routine:

  • Notifies HPO/BAC and the OOP of all plans and findings. Included in this process is gaining approvals and permits from these offices to proceed with our P-MAN missions. We also follow HPO/BAC cultural policies concerning interviewing locals.
  • Notifies State Governors, as appropriate, of our plans and requests permits to search within their respective States.
  • Notifies locals within each State as to our plans with requests for entering private properties, as appropriate.
  • Reports all BentProp findings to all agencies and authorities listed. For example, HPO/BAC have accepted the formal responsibility for notifying Japanese authorities, as appropriate.
  • Makes courtesy calls to various heads of state, legislature members and local authorities.
  • From time to time, we have interacted with the Palauan Embassy in Washington, DC.

The Republic of Palau (www.visit-palau.com) is a group of islands in Western Micronesia that became an independent nation in 1994. Today this culturally rich country is a center for tourism, with some of the best SCUBA diving and sea kayaking in the world. Palau is mostly surrounded by a barrier reef (light blue ring on map below). Peleliu and Angaur are the two southernmost islands on this map.

The Republic of Palau became a free-standing nation and a member of the United Nations in 1994. Palau has a constitutionally elected national government, and associated state governments, with a structure similar to the United States. This includes a nationally elected President and Vice President, House of Delegates and Senate. A separate Supreme Court and associated legal system also is in place. Importantly, Palau has also retained its traditional system of Chiefs, including two Paramount Chiefs, the Ibeduul and the Reklai. The primary languages spoken in Palau are Palauan and English.

Palau has a rich pre-historical, historical and culturally distinct past going back thousands of years, about which the People of Palau are rightly proud. Accordingly, Palau has made great strides through its Historical Preservation Office HPO) and its Bureau of Arts and Culture (BAC) to preserve all aspects of its pre-historical, historical and cultural past. The BentProp Project has come across previously undiscovered ancient archeological sites, which we have documented and reported immediately to HPO and BAC. In addition, BentProp Project routinely has made courtesy calls to the Office of the President (OOP) across multiple administrations, who have always expressed ongoing interest in our findings. Two Palauan Presidents have joined us in the field to observe our findings.

palau_ge palau_map
As seen on the map above (courtesy of the United States Marine Corps), Palau is approximately 4000 miles from Honolulu and 2000 miles from Tokyo. Yap (part of the Federated States of Micronesia) is Palau’s nearest neighbor.

Currently, the BentProp Project communicates primarily with the following Department of Defense agencies: the DPAA – Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the Navy Heritage and Historical Center (NHHC), the Marine Corps Historical Center (MCHC) and the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA). We also communicate with the Department of State, including the US Ambassador to the Republic of Palau. We are regular visitors to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In essence, we interact with all agencies appropriate for ensuring successful missions.

NOTE: Outside the United States, we also have a BentProp colleague in Japan who assists us in obtaining information available from Japanese WWII archives in the Tokyo area. We also periodically interact with the Japanese Embassy and Taiwanese Embassy in Palau. Palau’s Belau Museum and Etpison Museum have assisted us on many matters related to local history and culture.

The following sites are US government sites which provide a lot of information, such as listed below, and are FREE:

In order to understand the history of WWII in Palau and all available events documented concerning each MIA, BentProp Project team members routinely conduct specific research for archived military documents and records. The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) is an amazingly rich and helpful resource(the NARA staff are very helpful) but just one of the facilities that BentProp uses to research documents, photos, videos and maps. Many MIA families have similarly located specific information concerning their family members.

BentProp Project also conducts research at various archival facilities:

  •   (NARA)
    •   Archives I is in Washington DC
    •   Archives II is in College Park, MD
    •   National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), St. Louis, MO
  •   Other Archives are throughout US at Presidential Libraries, etc. (see archives.gov for locations)
  •   Museum Archives:
    •   Air and Space Museum, DC
    •   Navy Museum, Pensacola, FL
    •   Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI
  •   Military History Centers
    •  USMC (Quantico, VA)
    •  US Army (DC)
    •  US Navy Heritage and History Center (DC, Navy Yard)
    •  US Air Force Historical Research Agency (Maxwell AFB, ALA)

Overseas holdings in country of origin are also available. In the Pacific, Japan and Australia have extensive and varying archival data from WWII. Similar archives of varying size and access exist in many countries around the world.

Counting Japanese and American planes, the BentProp Project estimates 300-400 aircraft were lost within the Palau area. We have to date located and identified at least 30 American aircraft and 30 Japanese aircraft crash sites.

In order to provide background for MIA and POW searches by the BentProp Project, as well as documentation of our results, the BentProp Project has conducted by necessity a long-standing effort to catalogue aircraft losses in our areas of interest. Although our primary focus has always been on the MIAs and POWs, not aircraft, such research has been critical to determine what may possibly be found. Such cataloguing is an imperfect science. For example, After Action Reports (AARs) written by surviving air crews, who were also under attack, can be (and have been proven by us to be) quite inaccurate tin their observations as where aircraft actually were seen crashing and how many parachutes were seen (e.g., different surviving aircrews reporting different numbers of parachutes opening).For another example, when we find aircraft debris fields, we thoroughly document the sites but we typically do not attempt to “reassemble” the aircraft like an aviation archeologist might (we also do no salvage or restoration as these are all protected archeological and historical sites). So, we have found isolated debris fields containing the extremes from an entire aircraft to only a single recognizable part of an aircraft; we have also found complete aircraft debris fields spread over square miles in the jungle or ocean and some sites which appear to be more than one aircraft. In addition, post-war salvage operations removed several readily located aircraft but no records have been located as to which ones or where. All such permutations are possible and we have examples of each. Our focus at a crash site is to use these debris fields to search at least for the identity of the aircraft and obvious/superficial evidence of American human remains so as to provide sufficient evidence to DPAA for them to consider initiating recovery operations. If we find evidence supporting a site as associated with MIAs, we halt work and initiate our notification process. Importantly, we leave all aspects of recovery operations to DPAA. Nonetheless we do our homework as best we can, based on what we find, which for some sites has taken many years to unravel.

Historically, Palau is unique for WWII in that in the Pacific Theater, American forces typically either took over or bypassed a given island after a successful invasion. In Palau, US forces only took over two of the many Palauan islands (Peleliu and Angaur) and left the rest of the Palauan land mass immediately to the north in Japanese hands (which included an entire Imperial Japanese Army division) – this necessitated repeated American attacks over Palau to contain the remaining Japanese forces from March 1944 through August 1945. These American aerial attacks consisted of nine separate unrelated campaigns over this group of heavily defended islands. Thus over this relatively sustained time frame (compared to other WWII Pacific aviation actions), a large number of USN/USMC/USAAF aircraft were lost either through combat (e.g., shot down by anti-aircraft fire or enemy aircraft) or through operational issues (e.g., engine malfunctions, bad landings). Complicating this further is that the Japanese had three land-based airfields and at least two float-plane bases in Palau, from which many Japanese aircraft types flew (and some actually were either of American design or were built with American licensed parts!). With all of this prologue and with the fact that all battle records suffer from the “fog of war”, our working summary based on archival and field findings covering Palau during March 1944 to August 1945 is as follows:

Counting Japanese and American planes, the BentProp Project estimates between 300-400 aircraft were lost within the Palau area. During a recent review of the air losses over Palau, a group of independent researchers found records of 213 USN/USMC combat and operational aircraft losses reported from after-action reports and related sources from 26 March 1944 to 31 August 1945 (effectively war’s beginning and end in Palau). There were additionally 4 B-24 USAAF bombers, all combat losses – making a total of at least 217 combat and operational losses. We have no similar way to precisely quantify how many Japanese aircraft launching from the three airfields and two float-plane bases were destroyed in the air and on the ground by American forces, but conservatively (based on still photographs and reports from attacks over multiple campaigns), at least a hundred Japanese aircraft were so destroyed.

Our mission technically begins when we find aircraft crash sites. We document them (by GPS, photography and mapping) when we find them. We have determined that the best way to describe/catalog our findings is by first counting numbers of debris fields (many are whole aircraft, some are parts of aircraft and some may contain more than one aircraft). By this approach, we have thus far identified at least 35 American aircraft debris fields, and at least 35 Japanese aircraft debris fields (it is entirely coincidental that the numbers are the same). It is important for us to separate the debris fields by aircraft as this helps with possible MIA identification. However, the total number of aircraft debris fields, and resultant aircraft counts, go even higher in Palau than the estimates above because we also have found at least six “boneyards” (aircraft dump sites) along the runways of Peleliu and Angaur containing multiple Japanese and American aircraft losses – these contain aircraft abandoned for both combat and operational reasons. After untangling the differences between “debris field” (which may have more or less than one aircraft) and “crash site” (which refers to a single aircraft) and because we emphasize identifying as much as possible individual aircraft, we have thus far located and identified at least 30 American aircraft and 30 Japanese aircraft crash sites.

In total, we are searching for approximately 70 American MIA’s within the Republic of Palau.

Based on available historical data and excluding a) American aircraft witnessed crashing far outside the barrier reef (where ocean depths exceed 2000 feet making recovery not feasible) and b) aircraft operational losses on carriers and runways (e.g., bad landings and take-offs), the BentProp Project’s working numbers of potentially discoverable American MIAs and known POWs include ~62 USN/USMC (all MIA)+ 15 USAAF (8 MIA, 7 known but missing POWs) + 3 USN (UDT members captured in nearby Yap and executed in Palau) known but missing POWs = ~70 American MIAs. We have made sure not to double-count MIAs who were suspected of also being captured as POWs.

NOTE: In addition, according to War Crimes Tribunal records, at least 11 civilians were executed by Japanese military including six Jesuit Missionaries, four Hondonero-Untalan family members, and one British expatriate. These executed civilians were later reported by captured Japanese military to have been buried in the same area along with certain American POWs.

To date, at least 8 MIAs have been recovered, identified and families notified as a result of the direct efforts of the BentProp Project.

In addition, several other sites have been located by the BentProp Project that potentially contain MIAs and/or missing POWs; these have been reported to DPAA and are in varying stages of assessment by DPAA for possible recovery missions. The number is about 32 MIAs and POWs in process.

By policy, the BentProp Project does not scavenge or salvage, or participate in such activities, from any located site.

By Palauan archeological/historical site regulations which are similar to United States regulations, all archeological/historical sites more than 50 years old are considered as archeological/historical sites and are thus protected from scavenging and salvage by these regulations.

Interestingly, unlike the US Army and Air Force, the US Navy by regulation never revokes its claim to its Navy and Marine properties anywhere in the world. Thus, the BentProp Project does inform the US Navy of its findings for both MIA related and historical purposes.

When we first began this project in 1993, the only practical means of communication between Palau and the U.S. was by fax machine. For searches, we used basic scuba diving gear and decompression tables (no dive computers!), underwater compasses, maps and grid pattern searches for our underwater work and for land work, we used paper maps, compasses and machetes for the jungle (no GPS or satellite signal access). We used film cameras and paper notebooks to document our work.
The BentProp Project’s use of technologies has grown, especially over the past five years. We expect that our incorporation of yet additional technologies will continue to expand and extend our missions.
In 2013, our technologies can be divided into four categories: communication; archival record searches, interviews and documentation; field land operations;and field water operations.

  • Communication
    • Our website, www.bentprop.org is our primary communication tool and includes all non-confidential and redacted field summaries: mission proposals, preliminary summaries, final summaries and Mission/Vision/Values statements. At the request of the Palauan government and multiple US agencies, as well as out of respect for families, we redact all confidential information such as names, locations and related materials from our public website.
    • Facebook
    • Periodic presentations in a number of forums
  • Archival record searches, interviews and documentation
    • We rely heavily on military and other records, people’s recollections (e.g., American and Japanese veterans, elders and locals) and personal files.We locate written records, photographic records and video records at various archival sources including the National Archives and Records Administration and archival units maintained by relevant military services.
    • We use digital photography, videography, scanners, large hard drives and cloud storage to save all forms of documentation in a common area for all team members to access. Regarding Palau, the Bent Prop Project has likely assembled the largest repository of WWII-related materials – and we continue to add to it. Our storage area also allows team members to add in their hypotheses and ideas during our pre-field mission assessments.
    • We conduct and video interviews, with permission, with US veterans who participated in that theater during and after WWII (and their families), with Palauan elders, hunters and fishermen, and with Japanese veterans from that theater.
  • Field land operations
    • Virtually no technologies have proven yet to replace placing feet on the ground (or coral, volcanic or mangrove jungles).
    • GPS devices with very sensitive antenna technologies (we use Garmin devices) and the capacity to store many, many waypoints has probably been the single most important device in extending our field work.
    • Google Earth has facilitated our ability to overlay way points both on water and land, which has facilitated our abilities to rapidly map and display large and complex debris fields.
    • Camera technologies have greatly improved our documentation capabilities in several areas, including improved sensitivity, compactness and waterproof platforms (e.g., GoPro being an example of a very fieldable device).
    • Computer technologies have also permitted more rapid reviews, reporting and data storage/management. Internet access in Palau, while with limited bandwidth, has allowed the team to communicate real time with stateside team mates and other interested parties.
    • For searches, metal detectors have improved in sensitivity (due to the military need to detect non-metallic land mines with very small amounts of metal) and portability and are proving useful when looking over wide areas for hidden debris, as well as for finding burial sites which may contain small amounts of metal. Unmanned and even autonomous aerial vehicles are showing some promise especially in searches over mangrove swamps but more development time will be needed.
    • The BentProp Project is investigating a number of other potentially fieldable technologies to extend its search capabilities.

    Overall, we now travel in jungles a bit lighter with better documentation gear, but drinking water still weighs the same. We are not in any fear of novel detection technologies decreasing our need to stay in excellent physical shape for our land searches. And nothing is ever likely to replace a guide who knows the area we are searching.

  • Field water operations
    • Marine Sonic Technology kindly donated a boat-towed side scanning sonar device and Chesapeake Technology, Inc. donated associated interpretive software for managing large amounts of scanned data. Both have allowed us the conduct, from a boat deck, larger ocean area searches than is possible with SCUBA grid searches.
    • We continue to conduct targeted SCUBA searches only after sonar and related technologies identify suspected non-natural targets. Due to the variable depths of targets, we utilize both air and Nitrox systems. Dive computers and high intensity dive lights especially for low visibility dives have become invaluable.
    • Recently, we have taken another technologic leap through our collaboration with teams from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware, with supportive funding by the Office of Naval Research, which utilize a variety of underwater search technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles, remote operated vehicles, boat-mounted echoscopes, portable sonar devices for low visibility dive settings and unmanned aerial vehicles. Unlike currently available land search technologies, these new state-of-the-art technologies permit us to survey square kilometers of ocean floor in days, as opposed to years.

Underwater in Palau, undisturbed human bones can survive many decades. On land, it depends on the type of soil and a variety of other factors such as temperature, exposure to air and water, pH, and whether the site has been undisturbed or not.

Having stated this, BentProp’s mission is to locate the general vicinity of the human remains of American MIAs and missing POWs from WWII in Palau, on land and in the water but not to attempt to remove them. We have the utmost respect for these identified sites and what they represent. As a team policy, we make every effort not to disturb areas suspected of containing human remains (soil, wreckage, etc). When we confirm a site, we cease work, hold our own private ceremony for the fallen, and we notify DPAA, and all other appropriate authorities of our findings and the location.

The BentProp Project team is privileged to have established collaborations in 2012 with Dr. Eric Terrill and his team at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Dr. Mark Moline and his team at the University of Delaware in application of their oceanographic technologies toward our underwater searches for aircraft and other war equipment, which may lead to finding and recovery of American MIAs.

The BentProp Project’s team is committed to the mentoring and educating of youth interested in the range of our activities, including history, archival research, and field experiences.

Stockbridge High School, from Stockbridge, Michigan, has an Advanced Underwater Robotics program (https://www.facebook.com/StockbridgeRobotics?ref=br_tf ). Their focus is primarily to develop underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Starting in 2011, the BentProp Project invited the Stockbridge team to Palau to test its experimental ROVs on our underwater targets in missions parallel with our own. Stockbridge High School students have in turn reached out to Palauan students and have given classes on ROV technologies at local Palauan schools.

Depending on the subject matter, the BentProp Project may be able to offer the following assistance or direction:

  • Refer to Question #28
  • Information gathering from a variety of public websites and archival sources.
  • Procedures for conducting research at NARA and other archives.
  • Potential referrals to other organizations with specific knowledge of other conflict losses.
  • Introductions to US government agencies to aid a family search.
  • Any other means at our disposal to help educate and inform you of the known facts.
  • As a starting point, you may be able to request your military service records online, by mail, or by Fax at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/.

The BentProp Project team members are primarily self-funded. However, donations are welcome and are used at the team’s discretion for research, planning and missions.
Donations for the BentProp Project may be made:
• Via US Mail or other letter delivery services (Please make checks payable to the BentProp Project):
Mailing address:

The BentProp Project, Limited
443 First Street
Woodland, CA 95695-4023
– or –
• Via PayPal on-line:
• http://BentProp.org/donations.html